Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Friday he still had many chances to block Ukraine from becoming a member of the European Union in the future.
Orbán had been adamant for weeks that he would not agree to the EU opening talks with Ukraine on its possible membership, claiming it would be a disastrous move and that Kyiv was not ready to start the process. But in a surprising twist in Brussels on Thursday, the PM walked out of the room where the EU’s 27 member states were discussing the issue and let a unanimous vote of 26 approve the initiation of accession talks for Kyiv.
Orbán told Hungarian state radio on Friday that EU leaders assured him he would not “lose anything” by giving up his veto since he could still block Ukraine’s accession later if he wanted to — something he swore to do if he felt Hungary’s interests were threatened.
He said: “Their decisive argument was that Hungary loses nothing, given that the final word on Ukraine’s membership has to be given by the national parliaments, 27 parliaments, including the Hungarian one.
“I made it clear that we will not hesitate for a moment if the financial and economic consequences of this bad decision will be paid by the Hungarians. Those who made this decision should be the ones who pay. If necessary, we will slam the brakes.”
The EU leaders’ decision to move ahead on Ukraine’s membership — a process that could last for years — was greeted with joy in Kyiv, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailing the agreement as “a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe.”
But the outcome of Thursday’s summit was not all positive as Orbán blocked a 50-billion-euro ($54-billion) package of financial assistance that Ukraine urgently requires to survive, a huge setback for Zelenskyy after he failed to convince U.S. lawmakers to approve an extra $61 billion for his war campaign.
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said EU leaders would meet again in January to try to resolve the impasse.
It was not the first time Orbán had obstructed EU plans to give money to Ukraine. The nationalist leader is widely seen as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest friend in the EU, and has been criticized by his opponents for favoring Moscow’s interests over those of his EU and NATO allies.
Orbán has called for an immediate stop to the fighting and urged for peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv, though he has not specified what that would mean for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty.
On Friday, Orbán blamed his EU partners for wanting to prolong the war, and said giving more money to Kyiv was “an instant violation of (Hungary’s) interests.”
He added: “The situation in Ukraine is bad, so no more money should be sent to the war,” he said. “The war should be stopped and there should be a cease-fire and peace talks. Instead, now they want to give money to keep the war going.”